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IMAGE CAPTURE -- Market Goes Flat

June 2002
BY MARK SMITH


Digital files have become the norm in print production, but the processes involved in generating them continue to evolve. Image capture—chiefly, photo-graphs into color separations—was one of the first areas to feel the impact of electronics with the introduction of scanners. Decades later, the scanning process and market continues to be reshaped by technological advances and dropping prices. For the past 10 years or so, the production step has also faced possible obsolescence due to the rise of digital photography.

This context gave added weight to Heidelberg's recent announcement that it was discontinuing "all scanner development and production operations." The company said the scanner products set to disappear from its portfolio included all desktop models (the entire Linoscan range) and high-end solutions (including the flatbed Nex-scan and drum-based Primescan).

Making a Big Exit

What the move symbolized, and the very public way it was carried out, made Heidelberg's exit from the market perhaps seem more dramatic than the actual implications for the industry. To many people, high-end scanning used to be all but synonymous with Hell drum machines, and now that lineage is coming to an abrupt end. Heidelberg had inherited that tradition with its acquisition of the Linotype-Hell Co.

According to the equipment manufacturer, the market for scanners in all quality classes has experienced a downturn in recent years, including declines as great as 20 percent in 2001 alone, depending on market and product. "This move is a timely response to the changing needs and trends in the market," says Bernhard Schreier, CEO of Heidelberg Druckmaschinen. "We will be focusing our prepress business on workflow software and plate imaging (CTP)."

Some may see this development as an omen of the inevitable demise of scanning services. However, recent scanner purchasers and the remaining high-end manufacturers say don't write the obituary for scanning just yet.

Given that it is a prepress trade shop, there's a wide-spread perception in the industry that companies like Grafix Prepress, in Columbia, MD, have all died out, never mind the scanning services it offers.

For the first time in its more than 30 years in business, the shop did recently expand beyond prepress services with the installation of an Indigo Platinum press. However, it also has added a new large-format EskoScan 2636 flatbed color scanner from Esko-Graphics.

The shop does general commercial and packaging work from one location with about 30 employees, reports Tim Seal, electronic prepress manager. Packaging work was just part of the reason Grafix needed a large-format scanner, he says. The company also added computer-to-plate output capabilities within the past year, which brought a need for copydot scanning and descreening of existing analog film, Seal notes.
 

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